A Classic Picture Book with Beautiful Illustrations (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Tell us about a classic picture book you love for the illustrations.

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The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres

I have never actually liked the story of Peter Rabbit. At best, it’s too obviously didactic with its lessons about listening to your mother and being a good little bunny (child), and at worst it’s pretty dark. Mrs. Rabbit flat out says that Mr. Rabbit “had an accident” in Mr. McGregor’s garden and “he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor!” This was nearly traumatizing to me as a young reader, but she throws it out so casually. Oh, don’t go into the garden next door–you might be murdered and eaten! I simply was not a big fan as a child, and rereading the story recently hasn’t suddenly made me think it’s the epitome of children’s literature.

However, my family had this Little Golden Book edition of the story when I was growing up, and the illustrations are adorable! I believe I read the book multiple times simply because the pictures are so cute, while also detailed and rather evocative. Just look at that plump fluffy bunny on the cover, wearing his stylish coat and shoes!

I loved looking at the pictures, and I still think they’re astounding. I still want to just pick up all the bunnies and hug them, and I still love looking at all the details in the background, like the mother mouse with her baby mice in a cradle or all the little furnishings in Peter’s home. I also love the expressions on Peter’s face during his adventures, the single tear on his face when he gets caught in a net in Mr. McGregor’s garden and his anguish when he’s lost and can’t find his way home. The story is often sad and dark, but the illustrator really works with that! You start to feel for Peter, even when he brought all his troubles on himself.

Beatrix Potter I can take or leave as an author in general, but I really do love Cyndy Szekeres’s illustrations for The Tale of Peter Rabbit!

Briana

The Brontës: Children of the Moors by Mick Manning and Brita Granström

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
     And carried aloft on the winds of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
     Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

” Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day ” by Anne Brontë

Information

Goodreads: The Brontes: Children of the Moors
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

This picture book biography tells the story of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë’s lives from the perspective of Charlotte.

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Review

Like many works focused on the Brontë siblings, this one is told from the perspective of Charlotte, who lived longest and thus not only published more, but was also able to influence her sisters’ reputations after their deaths. Additionally, she left behind a wealth of letters and diaries, allowing biographers to quote her directly. Attempts to uncover Anne’s interior life necessitate more conjecture. Even so, the work is a beautiful introduction to the lives and work of the Brontës, combining quotes, images, and biography to tell their story in an engrossing manner.

The format of The Brontës: Children of the Moors may aptly be described as busy. Each spread typically includes a two-page illustration (drawn on site, according to the end notes), along with a quote by Charlotte in one corner and more text expanding on Charlotte’s words in another. The result is that sometimes the text can seem repetitive; readers read again what Charlotte just said, but in more detail. Or it can seem hard to follow. Should one begin with Charlotte’s words, with the picture, perhaps with a side panel showcasing the flora or fauna of the moors? However, I think young readers will delight in the busyness, in always finding something new to find on the page, in having to work to put together text, quote, and image. It makes the reading experience feel, somehow, more active, more participatory.

Being written for children, the text does smoothly gloss over moments like Branwell’s adulterous relationship with his employer’s wife and his descent into addiction, as well as Charlotte’s unrequited love for her Belgian professor. Sometimes the moments are made to sound more tame (ex. Branwell “flirted”). Sometimes they are mentioned, but not really elaborated upon. Ultimately, the biography comes across as truthful, but age-appropriate.

The Brontës: Children of the Moors is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of the Brontë siblings. It packs a lot of information into a small amount of space, resulting in that rare picture book biography that feels complete, but also supremely readable. Definitely worth a look for any Brontë fans.

4 stars

Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother by Caroline McAlister, Illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Information

Goodreads: Finding Narnia
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: November 2019

Summary

Caroline McAlister follows Jack and Warnie Lewis from boyhood to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in this picture book biography.

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Review

Finding Narnia proves a lackluster picture book biography, so focused on simplifying matters for children that it loses its heart in the process. Caroline McAlister seeks to move from Jack and Warnie’s boyhoods up to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but, rather than focusing on concrete details, attempts to write a thematic work tied together by the concept of Jack and Warnie’s differences, and Jack’s longing to find out “What if?” The result is that the book provides neither enough biographical meat to feel like real biography, nor enough emotional resonance to feel like inspirational. The biographical end note is more effective at bringing Jack to life than the picture book text.

Writing a picture book biography is no small feat, as a lifetime must be condensed into only a couple hundred words. Caroline McAlister attempts to do this by trying to give readers a “feeling” for who Jack and Warnie were instead of fitting in as many facts of possible. Jack likes stories. Warnie likes technology. Jack likes knights. Warnie like trains. Jack likes a world of talking animals. Warnie likes India in the real world. Unfortunately, it feels like this contrast (perhaps oversimplified for drama), comes sometimes at the expense of biographical fact. Moments like Mrs. Lewis’s death and WWI are glossed over, creating a lack of emotion in the book. A writer usually cannot dismiss WWI in three sentences and still have readers understand how such an event impacted the characters. Without this understanding, it is hard for readers to feel why Jack’s question of “What if?” was so important to him.

The ending of the book regrettably does nothing to leave the readers with a a lasting impact. Instead, it just tapers off into a vague summary of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in a bid to appeal to avid fans and the sense of wonder that Lewis’s world creates. Needless to say, this ending will probably be less meaningful to those discovering Lewis for the first time through the book. And it will probably confuse children expecting some sort of conclusive ending.

The illustrations in Finding Narnia are nice. They are serviceable. But they are not memorable and they do not save the book from feeling underwhelming. They are, however, apparently well-researched, based on the number of end notes provided to explain the details readers may have missed.

One begins to regret that all the research done for the book does not seem immediately obvious, due to McAlister’s struggle to write a successful picture book. She is far more engaging writing the lengthy biography at the end of the book and it seems clear that her love for C. S. Lewis would probably have been better used if she had written a book for older readers. Still, fans of the Inklings often tend to like things just because the Inklings are mentioned in them, and I suspect some fans will just be cheered to see any picture book featuring Jack and Warnie.

2 star review

Picture Book Reviews: At the End of Holyrood Lane, I Need a Hug, William Wakes Up

At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane

Written by Dimity Powell & Nicky Johnston

Flick loves living at the end of Holyrood Lane—except when it storms. Then, she hides and waits for the rumbling and rain to go away. But when she gets caught in the heart of a storm one day, she learns maybe she does not have to face her fears alone.

At the End of Holyrood Lane is a charming book that can take place just about anywhere with seasons and rainstorms, making it relatable for young readers who also might not like thunder and strong winds. Flick is an endearing protagonist, gracefully romping about the pages with her flower crown, ribbon, and plush unicorn, and readers will be hoping everything turns out all right for her after the frightening storms. A story about getting over one’s fear of storms could come across as preachy, but here it is charismatic and approachable. Soft, imaginative illustrations help create the “everywhere and nowhere” atmosphere for the story and show that storms might even be a bit beautiful in their own way. Overall, this is a delightful book.

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I Need a Hug

I Need a Hug

By Aaron Blabey

I Need a Hug follows the plight of an adorable porcupine who keeps asking others for a hug and being (rudely) turned down because the other animals are afraid of being stuck by his quills. The premise is, at least on an initial reading, amusing, and the illustrations are incredibly evocative, particularly when showing the animals’ terrified facial expressions. Readers likely will find themselves rooting for the porcupine to find someone who does not fear him so he can have a friend and get the hug he wants. However, adults might also want to have a discussion with younger readers about the implication in the book that the porcupine is owed a hug, or that the animals who say “no” should feel guilty about refusing to give him one. Questions about consent and whether one “must” hug someone just because they ask might naturally arise here.

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William Wakes Up

William Wakes Up

Written by Linda Ashman, Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

William Wakes Up is a charming story about a group of friends celebrating the advent of spring and an upcoming visit from a special guest. William and his pals have been sleeping, but now that it is spring, they have work to do cooking, cleaning the house, and getting ready for a visitor. The only problem is that not everyone will wake up! The story is unrelentingly cheerful about spring and friendship, even when talking about doing chores and discussing how not everyone is doing their share of the work. Repetition and rhyming keeps readers engaged and makes the book a fun one, rather than didactic, and an ending where the lazier animals can redeem themselves keeps the positivity going.

The artwork is detailed and has a woodsy color palette, and it nicely evokes a quiet rustic setting getting ready for spring. Readers will also love the dramatics and the facial expressions of the characters. William Wakes Up is a fabulous book to help readers welcome spring, along with William and his friends.

*Reviews first published at City Book Review

Briana

2018 Picture Book Reviews

The Weather Girls by Aki

This book reminded me a little of Madeline with its rhyming text and the girls walking out in a line (but then having adventures!). A lovely introduction to the seasons, as well.

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

Aaron Becker returns with another stunning wordless picture book.  A young girl picks up a stone as a memorial for her dog and readers see its history.  Becker’s beautiful, dreamy illustrations make the book something special.

The Book About Nothing by Mike Bender

This is a book that seems written for adult. I would personally call the illustrations ugly and even disturbing.  The concept of writing a book about nothing is intriguing.  However, friendlier illustrations and a narrative voice that doesn’t seem to be screaming at readers would make the book more suitable for a younger audience.

Brianna Bright, Ballerina Night by Pam Calvert and Lianna Hee

Brianna Bright dreams of becoming a ballerina, and later a fencer, but fails at both until a robbery tests her skills.  The story is unoriginal and the illustrations cloyingly pink, but young readers will probably love a book about a ballerina knight regardless.

Friends Stick Together by Hannah E. Harrison

Rupert the rhino loves Shakespeare, opera, and other refined entertainment.  Levi the tickbird plays air guitar and burps the alphabet.  In this standard story of friendship, Rupert  learns that different is not bad.  There’s nothing new here, but adults will like the message.

Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert by Stacy McAnulty

This book seems more appropriate for adults as I am not sure that children will see the irony. The humor relies on adults seeing typical grocery store child behavior (wanting to buy sugary cereal, sneaking a candy bar onto the belt) and laughing. Will children laugh at themselves? Probably not.

Night Out by Daniel Miyares

In this dreamlike story, a lonely boy receives a invitation to a nighttime party.  His experience will be the catalyst to finding new friends.  The beautiful, evocative illustrations are sure to pull readers in, even more than the story.

A Chip Off the Old Block by Jody Jensen Shaffer and Daniel Miyares

Rocky’s family contains famous names like Uncle Gibraltar and Aunt Etna.  But what can a mere pebble do to earn his own claim to fame?  This pun-filled adventure will appeal to rock lovers, but also to individuals who enjoy sweet stories about finding one’s place in the world.

The Boy and the Blue Moon by Sara O’Leary and Ashley Crowley

You might wonder whether we needed another picture book about a child going off on dream-like adventures.  The stunning blue and white illustrations, however, make this book stand out.

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

When Harriet goes to the store for party hats, she gets carried away–by penguins!  Now she has to find a way home.  Hattie, with her self-confidence and love of fashion, is reminiscent of Oliva the Pig, though her book is, I would argue, not nearly as funny. But the illustrations, soft pastels, are charming.

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn

This sweet story follows a young girl as she tries on her mother’s headscarves and goes about her day.  The bold, colorful illustrations will delight readers young and old.

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer and Madeline Valentine

In this cute story, a mother reveals unexpected skills as she races across town to rescue her son’s favorite doll.  It’s a heartwarming look at the love between a mother and her son.  The author note says the story was inspired by Trimmer’s Wonder Woman doll, making the story even more awesome.

5 Interactive Picture Books

interactive picture books

If you’re looking for a fun book to share with a young reader (or, let’s be serious, just a fun book to amuse yourself with…I read these all alone…), look no farther than this list of interactive picture books! Here, you don’t just read the story; you participate!

Cat Secrets by Jef Czekaj

Cat Secrets

This book is only for cats. That means, if you want to read it, you will have to persuade the cats in the book that you too are a cat! Do enough cat-like things convincingly, purring, napping, swatting at things passing by, and you might be let in on some juicy cat secrets.

Crunch, the Shy Dinosaur by Cirocco Dunlap, Illus. by Greg Pizzoli

Crunch the Shy Dinosaur

Crunch is a shy dinosaur who likes to hide from loud noises and overly curious readers by hunkering down in the shrubbery. Your job, as the reader, is to convince him you’re friendly and he should come out to play!  Talk to Crunch and model good behavior as you read through the book. He might reward you by putting on a hat and dancing!

Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book by Anders Arhoj

Find Me A Hide and Seek Book

A book in the vein of “Where’s Waldo?,” Find Me encourages readers to locate a character hidden in the scenes on each page. Scenes vary in setting and color scheme, giving young (and older!) readers a lot to look at. Even better, if you turn the book around, you’re asked to find a different character, so you can read the book both backwards and forwards. (The back cover is blue with big eyes, for those curious. No words at all on the cover!)

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Tap the Magic Tree

In this book, you help a book go through the seasons by tapping, shaking, blowing, counting, etc.  Readers are rewarded with blossoms, fruit, and more.  Vibrant backgrounds can help younger readers learn colors, while slightly older readers can learn about seasons and the life cycle of trees.  (Also very fun for adults, if I do say so myself.)

There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

There's a Monster in Your Book

Oh, no! There’s a monster in your book, and it looks as if he might even be interested in chewing the pages! Your task is to encourage him to leave, as you prod, shake, talk, etc. to the little blue monster on each page.

Can you think of any other interactive picture books?

Briana

Penguins Love Their ABC’s by Sarah Aspinall

Information

Goodreads: Penguins Love Their ABC’s
Series: Penguins #2
Source: Received from publisher
Published: August 29, 2017

Summary

The penguins are back, but now that they’ve learned their colors, they’re going to review their ABC’s!  Come along on a journey to uncover the alphabet.

Review

Penguins Love Their ABC’s takes readers on a colorful scavenger hunt to find the letters of the alphabet.  From “B is for broccoli” to “Z is for zucchini,” the story brings a fresh twist to the alphabet book by including some surprising objects .  The fun of discovering what each letter stands for along with the vibrant illustrations will keep young readers engaged as they learn.

The text helpfully includes questions to ask young readers so they can practice responding to the story and anticipating what might come next.  Adult readers are, of course, supposed to ask such questions to teach reading skills, but the inclusion of questions in the story itself will help adults who are not yet accustomed to  asking their auditors to interact with the story.  They also provide a helpful guide so that the adults reading out loud can add questions of their own as they progress through the book or go through a reread.

However, the colorful pictures, the cute penguins, and the sense of playful humor (such as the penguins dancing about in their “lucky underwear”) will surely charm children and make learning seem fun.  Penguins Love Their ABC’s is a delightful addition to the concept book shelf of any home or library.

4 stars

Why I’ve Never Liked Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree

Discussion Post

When I was in elementary school, my teachers used to read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree aloud to my class.  I understood that my teachers thought that the story depicted selfless giving on the part of the tree.  Year after year as the boy and then the man come to her asking her to give of herself to him, she happily obliges, allowing him to take her apples, her branches, and, finally, her trunk.  But, despite my teachers’ apparent love for this story, it never enchanted me.  To me, it was a dark and twisted tale, one in which a man unthinkingly kills someone who was kind to him, because he thinks only of his own needs.

My teachers would have seen the tree as a example to us all.  The tree loves her Boy unconditionally and does everything in her power to provide for him and to make him happy, even though he is grateful for none of it.  I appreciate this interpretation and can only hope that I can become a little more like the tree myself–generous, cheerful, and willing to sacrifice for the good of others.  However, I cannot help but feel that the interpretation is missing something–a recognition that, even though the tree is generous and loving, that does not excuse the actions of the Boy.

As a child, I possessed the sense of justice that many children possess.  I knew instinctively that the boy was wrong and selfish, even though this is not something any adult would have said.  The focus was all on the positive–how kind and giving is the tree!  No one mentioned that the tree was capable of such sacrificial lengths only because the Boy she served was willing to chop her down without a second thought.  A more well-rounded interpretation of the story would, I think, acknowledge that it is not okay for someone to keep taking, taking, taking with nary a thank you.  Nor is it acceptable for someone to ask another person to hurt themselves so that they can attain more wealth or material possessions.

Am I being too literal?  Well, that is what elementary school me thought when my teachers read this story aloud.  I never liked The Giving Tree.  I found it disturbing and I found it even more disturbing that the adults seemed unperturbed by the ending, in which an old man sits down on the stump of the tree he has killed.  The tree is happy because she can keep on giving and the man rests content, still oblivious to his selfishness throughout his life.  (Yes, technically the tree is still happy so I guess she is not really dead, but surely the man who chopped her down didn’t expect her to somehow go on living?  That is not  how trees work!)  To me, the story was more about the depredations of the selfish Boy than it was about the abused love of the tree.

Years later, I still cannot stand The Giving Tree.  I cannot help but think that readers too easily dismiss the actions of the Boy in order to praise the sacrifices of the tree.  I am pleased to learn that some criticism has been leveled at the work, with some readers interpreting the work more along the lines that I do–as a story about the selfishness of the boy or the ways in which humanity destroys nature.  But I suspect that many elementary school teachers go on reading the work, happily untroubled by its darker undertones.

How do you interpret The Giving Tree?

Penguins Love Colors by Sarah Aspinall

penguins-love-colorsINFORMATION

Goodreads: Penguins Love Colors
Series:  None
Source: Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Published: 2016

SUMMARY

Six little penguins love colors, but their home is full of white snow!  Can they find a way to create a colorful surprise for their mama?

Review

Penguins Love Colors is the charming tale of six little penguins named after flowers–Tulip, Tiger Lily, Dandelion, Broccoli, Bluebell and Violet.  Even though they are surrounded by snow, they want to paint their mama a surprise. Thus begins a sweet story that will help younger readers learn to recognize and name colors.

Sarah Aspinall clearly created her book with beginner readers and their caretakers in mind.  Not only does it teach colors through naming and repetition, but it also includes the types of prompt questions adult readers are encouraged to ask of their young audiences to develop reading skills.  “Do you think they made a mess?” the text asks and “Do YOU know [which penguin painted which flower?]”  These moments encourage the reader to pause  for the child to predict what might come next and to try to identify the color that matches each flower.  Adult readers who are unsure what types of questions to ask their children or who are just beginning to learn what types of questions they should ask while teaching literacy will surely find these prompts useful.  And children will enjoy the interaction.

The bright pictures add to the book’s appeal.  A rainbow of color appears on nearly every page and the penguins spin and slide exuberantly through their vibrant (if snowy) world.  Readers are sure to fall in love with them as they break out their paint brushes to get creative.  And maybe readers will want to get creative, too!

Krysta 645 stars

Bonus Content

Interested in Penguins Love Colors?  Sarah Aspinall has created coloring pages and a teaching guide for you to use!  Check them out below!

coloring-page-1

coloring-page-2

penguins-love-colors-curriculum

Otter Goes to School by Sam Garton

Otter Goes to School by Sam GartonINFORMATION

Goodreads: Otter Goes to School
Series:  None
Source: Library
Published: 2016

SUMMARY

When Otter asks how Otter Keeper became so clever, he tells her about school.  Since Otter can think of several friends who need school, she starts her own.  But when Teddy worries that he isn’t good at anything, Otter begins to think she isn’t a very good teacher.

Review

Like  many of the other Otter books, Otter Goes to School does not have a particularly original premise–picture books about going to school are rather plentiful.  However, Otter gives this story added warmth and charm.  With her signature humor and many cute otter faces, she makes this book worth a reread.

What I love most about the Otter books is the expressiveness of the pictures and Otter’s enthusiasm for life.  Whether she’s dancing, giving out gold stars in class, or coloring, Otter loves it all.  It kind of makes me want to jump in and share the fun.  Everything is the best thing ever!  All this enthusiasm is balanced by some of Otter’s low moments, whether she’s scared or frustrated or sad.  Then her little whiskers droop and you want to give her a hug because Otters, you know, are just meant to be happy.

Spending a day with Otter is always a delight.  I hope there are many more Otter books to come to brighten our days.

4 starsKrysta 64